Petitions to the European Parliament – 2009 report

I’ve finally been able to write some notes from the European Parliament’s report on petitioning in 2009 – it was approved 7 June 2010, so really I have no excuse for being so late with this piece. Despite the delay, it’s still been worth looking at because it touches on the impact of electronic submission of petitions, and frustration at the continuing ignorance of the EU’s citizens (the voters, the MEPs’ constituents).

The report can be downloaded here and you can get previous versions via my notes on the 2008 and 2007 reports.

2009 saw the introduction of the Treaty of Lisbon, which retained the right to petition under Article 227:

“Any citizen of the Union, and any natural or legal person residing or having its registered office in a Member State, shall have the right to address, individually or in association with other citizens or persons, a petition to the European Parliament on a matter which comes within the Union’s fields of activity and which affects him, her or it directly.”

After the 2009 elections, two thirds of the committees’ members are sitting for the first time (A)*.

Some numbers

2009 2008
Petitions received 1924 1829
Electronic 65% 60%
Admissible 688 788
as %age 46% 46%

Source: Section (H) of the report. I can’t quite get the numbers to add up. If the number of petitions increases and the number admissible petitions decreases, why does the %age stay the same – it should fall to 35% by my reckoning. Also, on page 12 of the report, it’s clear that the figures for 2008 and 2009 have been muddled up. … I’m just sticking to the numbers in the report here.

The number addressed at the EU increased from 330 to 403 (p13). Popular topics relate to the environment (hence the driver behind the eMPOWER project), though the number decreased to 228 from 311. The biggest increases were in internal market and employment.

Member States seem to becoming more involved in helping resolve the matters raised by the petitions committees (23) and some (unnamed) states are now taking a positive attitude to resolving petitions matters early on (22) and complaints are re-directed to Member States for resolution (25)

The average turnaround time is not given. If calculated correctly, this could be a key performance indicator of the effectiveness of the handling of petitions

Too much work? Blame the internet

PETI reports that there is a continuing perceived issue with inadmissible petitions, partly blamed on the increased uptake of electronic petitions (26), and these ‘non-petitions’ are felt to be an increased burden (27). These non-petitions include matters better covered nationally, or under court proceedings (K).

As the percentage of inadmissible petitions remains [at] slightly over half of the petitions received, it is obvious that efforts should be stepped up to enforce previous and current recommendations aiming to better inform the citizens about EU competences. (page 11)

The need for improved communication

The solutions that the petition committee suggest are ‘improved communication’ – though it is felt that it already has been made clear enough (p12). The solution is seen in providing more guidance  about the competencies of the Union and the role of its institutions (I), about the relationship between petitions and the ECI (4), about alternative methods for redress like the Ombudsman or informal mechanisms like SOLVIT (10) or Europe Direct, using a mechanism like the Your EU rights page to signpost best action route. (also p19)

One suggested remedy is to revise the registration process to allow early redirection, particularly to the Correspondence with Citizens Unit Citizens Enquiry Service (27)

Another is to create a user-friendly interactive portal, which would also explain voting procedures and responsibilities (28) – the committee’s page is not aimed at the general citizen. The portal would have a multi-stage template for petitions, and offer alternative routes for redress at EU and national level (29) There is also a need to implement the new Rule 202 which includes a requirement that “An electronic register shall be set up in which citizens may lend or withdraw support to the petitioner, appending their own electronic signature to petitions which have been declared admissible and entered in the register. (para 4)”

This looks pretty much like a specification for an e-petitioning system… like for instance, EuroPetition, which the European Parliament has been indirectly funding.

Conclusion: what does this all mean?

The internet is enabling more and more concerned EU citizens to contact the European Parliament. At the same time, it is clear that the EP is not yet able to really take advantage of the interactivity that the same internet gives them.

I have a feeling if the Petitions Committee felt able to take the same pro-active approach as the Scottish Parliament and the EuroPetition project do – it would be able to direct and support citizens’ attempts at engaging with EU institutions, for very little effort. And the Petitions Committee would be able to focus on the cases where it could make a difference.

[*] The numbers and letters in brackets refer to report paragraphs

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About Peter Cruickshank

Lecturer in the School of Computing and a member of the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland. Interested in information systems, learning, politics, society, security and where they intersect. My attempts at rounding out my character include food, cinema, running, history and, together with my lovely wife, bringing up a cat and a couple of kids.
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